Sunday, June 11, 2006

In the Kingdom of Avadh by William Dalrymple

On the eve of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Lucknow, the capital of the Kingdom of Avadh, was indisputably the largest, most prosperous and most civilised pre-colonial city in India. Its spectacular skyline - with its domes and towers and gilded cupolas, palaces and pleasure gardens, ceremonial avenues and wide maidans - reminded travellers of Constantinople, Paris or even Venice. The city's courtly Urdu diction and elaborate codes of etiquette were renowned as the most subtle and refined in the subcontinent; its dancers admired as the most accomplished; its cuisine famous as the most flamboyantly baroque. Moreover, at the heart of the city, lay Lucknow's decadent and Bacchanalian court. Stories of its seven-hundred women harems and numberless nautch girls came to epitomise the fevered fantasies of whole generations of Orientalists; yet for once the fantasy seems to have been not far removed from the clearly swaggeringly sybaritic reality."But look at it now," said Mushtaq gesturing sadly over the rooftops. "See how little is left..."We were standing on the roof of Mushtaq's school in Aminabad, the oldest quarter of the city and the heart of old Lucknow. It was a cold, misty winter's morning and around us, through the ground mist, rose the great swelling, gilded domes of the city's remaining mosques and imambaras. A flight of pigeons wheeled over the domes and came to rest in a grove of tamarind trees to one side; nearby a little boy flew a kite from the top of a small domed Mughal pavilion. It was a spectacular panorama, still one of the greatest skylines in all Islam; but even from our vantage point the signs of decay were unmistakable."See the grass growing on the domes?" said Mushtaq, pointing at the great triple dome of the magnificent Jama Masjid. "It hasn't been whitewashed for thirty years. And at the base: look at the cracks! Today the skills are no longer there to mend these things: the expertise has gone. The Nawabs would import craftsmen from all over India and beyond: artisans from Tashkent and Samarkand, masons from Isfahan and Bukhara. They were paid fantastic sums, but now no one ever thinks to repair these buildings. They are just left to rot. This has all happened in my lifetime."A friend in Delhi had given me Mushtaq Naqvi's name when he heard I was planning to visit Lucknow. Mushtaq, he said, was one of the last remnants of old Lucknow: a poet, teacher and writer who knew Lucknow intimately yet who - slightly to everyone's surprise - had chosen never to leave the city of his birth, despite all that had happened to Lucknow since Independence. Talking with my friends, I soon learned that this qualification -“despite all that has happened to Lucknow “ - seemed to be suffixed to any statement about the place, as if it was a universally accepted fact that Lucknow's period of greatness lay long in the past.The city's apogee, everyone agreed, was during the eighteenth century under the flamboyant Nawabs of Avadh (or Oudh) - a time when, according to one authority, the city resembled an Indian version of [pre-Revolutionary] “Teheran, Monte Carlo and Las Vegas, with just a touch of Glyndebourne for good measure”. Even after the catastrophe of the Mutiny, Lucknow had been reborn as one the great cities of the Raj.It was Partition in 1947 that finally tore the city apart, its composite Hindu-Muslim culture irretrievably shattered in the unparalleled orgy of bloodletting that everywhere marked the division of India and Pakistan. By the end of the year, the city's cultured Muslim aristocracy had emigrated en masse to Pakistan and the city found itself swamped instead with non-Muslim refugees from the Punjab. These regarded the remaining Muslims with the greatest suspicion- as dangerous fanatics and Pakistani fifth columnists- and they brought with them their own very different, aggressively commercial culture. What was left of the old Lucknow, with its courtly graces and refinement, quickly went into headlong decline. The roads stopped being sprinkled at sunset, the buildings ceased to receive their annual whitewash, the gardens decayed, and litter and dirt began to pile up unswept on the pavements.Fifty years later, the city is today renowned not so much for its refinement as for the coarseness and corruption of its politicians, and the crass ineptitude of its officials. What had once been regarded as the most civilised city in India - a city whose manners and speech made other Indians feel like oafish rustics - is rapidly becoming notorious as one of the most hopelessly backward and violent, with a burgeoning mafia and a notoriously thuggish and corrupt police force. "You must have seen some sad changes in that skyline," I said to Mushtaq, as we turned to look eastwards over the monsoon-stained tower blocks which dwarfed and blotted out the eighteenth century panorama in the very centre of the city."In thirty years all sense of aesthetics have gone from this town," he replied. "Once Lucknow was known as the Garden of India. There were palms and gardens and greenery everywhere. Now so much of it is eaten up by concrete, and the rest has become a slum. See that collapsing building over there?"Mushtaq pointed to a ruin a short distance away. A few cusped arches and some broken pillars were all that was left of what had clearly once been a rather magnificent structure. But now shanty huts hemmed it in on three sides while on the fourth stood a fetid pool. At its side you could see a cow munching on a pile of chaff."It is difficult to imagine now," said Mushtaq, "but when I was a boy that was one of the most beautiful havelis [courtyard houses] in Lucknow. At its centre was a magnificent shish mahal [mirror chamber]. The haveli covered that whole area where the huts are now and that pool was the tank in its middle: begums [aristocratic ladies] from all over Aminabad and Hussainabad would go there to swim. There were gardens all around. See that tangle of barbed wire? That used to be an orchard of sweet-smelling orange trees. Can you imagine?"I looked at the scene again, trying to picture its former glory. It was very difficult."But the worst of it- how to put it in English?- is that the external decay of the city is really just a symbol of what is happening inside us: the inner rot.""What do you mean?" I asked."Under the Nawabs Lucknow experienced a Renaissance that represented the last great flowering of Indo-Islamic genius. The Nawabs were such liberal and civilised figures: men like Wajd Ali Shah- author of one hundred books, a great poet and dancer. But the culture of Lucknow was not just limited to the elite: even the prostitutes could quote the great Persian poets; even the tonga drivers and the tradesmen in the bazaars spoke the most chaste Urdu and were famous across India for their exquisite manners...""But today?""Today the grave of our greatest poet, Mir, lies under a railway track. What is left of the culture he represented seems hopelessly vulnerable. After Partition nothing could ever be the same again. Those Muslims who were left were the second rung. They simply don't have the skills or education to compete with the Punjabis, with their money and business instincts and garish, brightly-lit shops. Everything they have has crumbled so quickly: the owners of palaces and havelis have become the chowkidars [gate keepers]. If you saw any of the old begums today you would barely recognise them. They are shorn of all their glory, and their havelis are in a state of neglect. They were never brought up to work- they simply don't know how to do it. As they never planned for the future, many are now in real poverty. In some cases their daughters have been forced into prostitution.""Literally?""Literally. I'll tell you one incident that will bring tears to your eyes. A young girl I know- eighteen years old, from one of the royal families- was forced to take up this work. A rickshaw driver took her in chador to Clarkes Hotel for a rich Punjabi businessman to enjoy for 500 rupees. This man had been drinking whisky but when the girl unveiled herself, he was so struck by her beauty - by the majesty of her bearing - that he could not touch her. He paid her the money and told her to go."Mushtaq shook his head sadly: "So you see it’s not just the buildings: the human beings of this city are crumbling too. The history of the decline of this city is written on the bodies of its people. Look at the children roaming the streets, turning to crime. Great grandchildren of the Nawabs are pulling rickshaws. If you go deeply into this matter you would write a book with your tears."Mushtaq pointed at the flat roof of a half-ruined haveli: "See that house over there?" he said. "When I was a student there was a nobleman who lived there. He was from a minor Nawabi family. He lived alone, but everyday he would come to a chaikhana [teahouse] and gupshup [gossip]. He was a very proud man, very conscious of his noble birth, and he always wore an old fashioned angurka [long Muslim frockcoat]. But his properties were all burned down at Partition. He didn't have a job and no one knew how he survived. "Then one day he didn't turn up at the chaikhana. The next day and the day after there was no sign of him either. Finally on the fourth day the neighbours began to smell a bad smell coming from his house. So they broke down the door and found him lying dead on a charpoy [cot]. There was no covering, no other furniture, no books, nothing. He had sold everything he had, except his one pair of clothes, but he was too proud to beg, or even to tell anyone of his problem. When they did a post mortem on him in the medical college they found he had died of starvation. "Come," said Mushtaq. "Let us go to the chowk: there I will tell you about this city, and what it once was."At the height of the Moghul Empire, said Mushtaq, Shah Jehan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, had ruled over a mighty Empire that stretched from the Hindu Kush in the North to great diamond mines of Golconda in the South. But during the eighteenth century, as the Moghul Empire fell apart, undermined by civil war and sacked by a succession of invaders from Persia and Afghanistan, India's focus moved inexorably eastwards from Delhi to Lucknow. There the Nawabs maintained the fiction that they were merely the provincial governors of the Moghuls, while actually holding a degree of real power and wealth immeasurably greater than the succession of feeble late Moghul monarchs who came and went on the throne of Delhi.Gradually, as the Moghul's power of patronage waned ever smaller, there was a haemorrhage of poets and writers, architects and miniature painters away from Delhi to Lucknow, as the Nawabs collected around them the greatest minds of the day. They were men such as Mir, probably the greatest of all the Urdu poets, who at the age of 66 was forced to flee from his beloved Delhi in an effort to escape the now insupportable violence and instability of the Moghul capital.The Nawabs were great builders, and in less than 50 years they succeeded in transforming the narrow lanes of a small mediaeval city to one of the great capitals of the Muslim world: "Not Rome, not Athens, not Constantinople, not any city I have ever seen appears to me so striking and beautiful as this," wrote the British war correspondent William Russell in the middle of the Indian Mutiny. "The sun playing on the gilt domes and spires, the exceeding richness of the vegetation and forests and gardens remind one somewhat of the view of the Bois de Boulogne from the hill over St. Cloud... but for the thunder of the guns and the noise of the balls cleaving the air, how peaceful the scene would be!"After 600 years of Islamic rule in India, what the Nawabs achieved at Lucknow represented the last great swansong of Indo-Islamic civilisation, a last burst of energy and inspiration before the onset of a twentieth century holding little for Indian Muslims except division, despair and decline. Since I had arrived in the city I had spent a couple of bright, chilly winter days jolting around the old city on a rickshaw visiting a little of what was left. The architecture of the Nawabs has sometimes been seen as a decadent departure from the pure lines of the Great Moghul Golden Age, and there is some truth in this: there is nothing in Lucknow, for example, to compare to the chaste perfection of the Taj. Moreover, in the years leading up to the Mutiny, some of the buildings erected in Lucknow did indeed sink into a kind of florid, camp voluptuousness which seem to have accurately reflected the mores of a Lucknow whoring and dancing its way to extinction. To this day a curtain covers the entrance to the picture gallery in Lucknow after a prim British memsahib fainted on seeing the flirtatiously bared nipple of the last Nawab, Wajd Ali Shah, prominently displayed in a portrait of the period. The same feeling of over-ripe decadence is conveyed in Late Nawabi poetry, which is some of the most unblushingly fleshy and sensual ever written by Muslim poets:I am a lover of breasts Like pomegranates;Plant then no other treesOn my grave but these.(Nasikh)Confronted with such verses, Mir expressed his view that most Lucknavi poets could not write verse and would be better advised to "stick to kissing and slavering". He may well have thought the same of Late Nawabi architecture with its similarly unrestrained piling on of effects. For by the end Lucknow's builders had developed a uniquely blowsy Avadhi rococo whose forms and decorative strategies seem to have borrowed more frequently from the ballrooms and fairgrounds of Europe than from the shrines and fortresses of Babur and Tamburlaine. There was no question of sobriety or restraint: even in monuments built to house the dead, every inch of the interior was covered with a jungle of brightly coloured plaster work intertwining promiscuously with gaudy curlicues of feathery stucco. Nevertheless the best of the buildings in Lucknow- those that date from the late eighteenth century- are evidence of a remarkable Silver Age which in sheer exuberance has no equal in India. The Great Imambara complex was built by Asaf ud-Daula for Shi'ite religious discourses in 1784. One of the largest vaulted halls in the world, it was built to create employment during a famine. Here there is none of the camp doodling that would be seen on later monuments. Instead the imambara is a vast and thoroughly monumental building: long, echoing arcades of cusped arches give way to great gilded onion-domes and rippling lines of pepperpot semi-domes; at the corners soaring minarets rise to solid well-designed chattris. The whole composition exudes a bold, reckless and extravagant self-confidence. Lucknow was consciously aiming to surpass the glories of Late Moghul Delhi and the Great Imambara shows it could do so with dashing panache.Driving today through the melancholic streets of modern Lucknow, these massive buildings dating from the days of the Nawabs rear out of the surrounding anarchy like monuments from some lost civilisation, seemingly as disconnected from the present as the pyramids are to modern Egypt. At times it seems almost impossible to believe that they date from less than two hundred years ago, and that at that period Lucknow was famed as one of the richest kingdoms in Asia. For today the city is as shabby and impoverished as anywhere in India. Waves of squabbling cycle-rickshaw drivers pass down the potholed roads, bumping in and out of the puddles. Rubbish lies uncollected by the roadside, with dogs competing with rats to snuffle in the piles of street-side garbage. Beside them, lines of impoverished street vendors squat on dirty rush mats, displaying their tawdry collections of cheap plastic keyrings and fake Rolex watches. There is no grass in the parks and no flowers in the beds; barbed wire hangs limply around what were once beautiful Moghul gardens alive with the sound of parakeets and peacocks. Above the crumbling ruins of the old city of the Nawabs rise the charmless Monsoon-stained, smoke-blackened concrete blocks erected since Independence, and now, like the ruins, showing signs of imminent collapse, with deep fissures running up their sides. The contrast between the magnificent follies of the Nawabs and the decayed, impoverished post-colonial intrusions which stand among them is almost unbearably painful: everywhere, it seems, there has been a universal drop in standards and expectations. Yet even at the time the great buildings of Nawabi Lucknow were being erected, the Kingdom of Avadh was acutely conscious that it was living on borrowed time. For before the Nawabs had even established their capital at Lucknow, their armies had already been defeated in battle by the East India Company, and over the course of the early nineteenth century the Company ate like a cancer into the territories of Avadh: in less than 50 years the British annexed more than half the Kingdom. But the Nawabs remained surprisingly well disposed towards Europeans, and delighted in the trinkets and amusements Europeans could provide for their court: jugglers, portrait painters, watch menders, piano tuners and even fashionable London barbers were all welcomed to Lucknow and well paid for their services.If the Nawab sometimes amazed foreign visitors by appearing dressed as a British admiral or even as a clergyman of the Church of England, then the Europeans of Lucknow often returned the compliment. Miniature after miniature from late eighteenth century Lucknow show Europeans of the period dressed in long white Avadhi gowns, lying back on carpets, hubble-bubbles in their mouths, as they watch their nautch girls dance before them. Even those who never gave up European dress seem to have taken on the mores of Nawabi society: Major General Claude Martin, for example, kept a harem which included his favourite wife Boulone as well as her three sisters. Nor was this sexual curiosity just one way: at least two British memsahibs were recruited to join the Avadi harem, and a mosque survives which was built by the Nawab for one of them, a Miss Walters.Intellectually too, there seems to have been a surprising degree of intercourse between Europeans and the people of Lucknow. The greatest collection of Oriental Manuscripts in Britain - now the core of the India Office Collection - was formed by Richard Johnson while he was the Deputy to the British Resident in Lucknow. During his years in Avadh he mixed on equal terms with the poets, scholars and calligraphers of Lucknow, discussing Sanskrit and Persian literature, and forming long lasting friendships with many of them. One of these scholars, Mir Qamar ud-Din Minnat, dedicated his diwan to Johnson, later following his friend to Calcutta where Warren Hastings bestowed on him the title 'King of Poets'.Much of the surviving architecture of the city reflects this unique moment of Indo-European intermingling. Constantia, Claude Martin's great palace-mausoleum, now the La Martiniere school, is perhaps the most gloriously hybrid building in India, part Nawabi fantasy and part Gothic colonial barracks. Just as Martin himself combined the lifestyle of a Muslim prince with the interests of a renaissance man- writing Persian couplets and maintaining an observatory, experimenting with map making and botany, hot air balloons and even bladder surgery - so his mausoleum mixes Georgian colonnades with the loopholes and turrets of a mediaeval castle; Palladian arcades rise to Mughal copulas; inside brightly coloured Nawabi plasterwork enclose Wedgwood plaques of classical European Gods and Goddesses.Yet while Martin designed Constantia to be the most magnificent European funerary monument in India, the East India Company's answer to the Taj Mahal, it was also intended to be defensible. The eighteenth century was an anarchic and violent time in India, and during an uprising in the 1770's, Martin once had to defend his residence with a pair of cannon filled with grape shot. It was a lesson he never forgot, and he built Constantia to be his last redoubt in case of danger. Lines of cannon crowned the facade, and thick iron doors sealed off the narrow spiral staircases which connected the different 'bomb-proof' floors. Moreover on the facade Martin erected two colossal East India Company lions which were designed to hold flaming torches in their mouths. The sight of these illuminated beasts, belching out fire and smoke on a dark night was intended to terrify would-be intruders.In its wilful extravagance and sheer strangeness, Constantia embodies like no other building the opulence, restlessness, and open mindedness of a city which lay on the faultline between East and West, the old world of the Nawabs and the new world of the Raj. To this day the whole extraordinary creation stands quite intact, still enclosed in acres of its own parkland. As you approach on your rickshaw you pass along a superb avenue of poplar and tamarind, eucalyptus and casuarina, at the end of which you pass the perfect domed Mughal tomb which Martin built for his beloved Boulone. As he rather touchingly wrote in his will: "she choosed never to quit me. She persisted that she would live with me, and since we lived together we never had a word of bad humour one against another."Nearby Constantia, a short rickshaw ride over the railway crossing, I stumbled across another smaller but equally remarkable building from the same period. It turned out to be the ruins of one of the Nawabs most lovely pleasure palaces, named Dilkusha or Heart's Delight. Yet despite this very Persian name, Dilkusha was in fact closely modelled on one of the great English country houses, Seaton Delavel - but with four gloriously ornate octagonal minarets added to the otherwise austere Palladian design. The whole episode was an extraordinary moment of Indo-European fusion- a moment pregnant with unfulfilled possibilities, and one which is often forgotten in the light of Lucknow's subsequent history. For this process of mutual enrichening did not last. As the nineteenth century progressed, the British became more and more demanding in their exactions on the Nawabs, and more and more assured of their own superiority; they learned to scoff at the buildings and traditions of Lucknow, and became increasingly convinced that they had nothing to learn from 'native' culture. Relations between the Nawabs and the British gradually became chilly: it was as if the high-spirited tolerance of courtly Lucknow was a direct challenge to the increasingly self-righteous spirit of evangelical Calcutta. In 1857, a year after the British forcibly deposed the last Nawab, Lucknow struck back, besieging the British in their fortified residency. In the event, after nearly two years of siege and desperate hand to hand fighting in the streets of Lucknow, the British defeated the Mutineers and wreaked their revenge on the conquered city. Vast areas of the city of the Nawabs were bulldozed, and for half a century the administration moved to Allahabad. Every site connected to the Mutiny was lovingly preserved by the British- the pockmarked ruins of the besieged Residency, the tombs of the British leaders who fell in the seige, every point in the town where the relieving forces were ambushed or driven back- turning much of the city into a vast open air Imperial War Memorial, thickly littered with a carapace of cemeteries and spiked canons, obelisks and Rolls of Honour. But shorn of its court and administrative status, preserved only for the curiosity of British visitors, Lucknow gradually became the melancholic backwater it is today. "Yet even in my childhood something of Lucknow's old graces survived," said Mushtaq. "I'll show you what I mean."We walked together through the chowk, the narrow, latticed bazaar-labyrinth which was once the centre of Lucknow's cultural life. Above us, elaborately carved wooden balconies backed onto latticed windows. Figures flitted behind the wooden grilles. Every so often we would pass the arched and pedimented gateway of a grand haveli: the gateway still stood magnificently, but as often as not the old mansion to which it led had been turned into a godown or warehouse. A bird's nest of electricity wires were strung down the side of the chowk, many of which had been brutally punched through the walls and arcades of the old mansions.Below the latticed living quarters were a wonderful collection of tiny box-like shops, all arranged in groups by trade: a line of shops selling home-made fireworks would be followed by another line piled high with mountains of guavas or marigold garlands; a group of ear cleaners- whose life revolved around the patient removal of pieces of wax from the inner ear- would be followed by a confraternity of silver beaters who made their living from hammering silver into sheets so fine they could be applied to sticky Lucknavi sweets."When I was a boy, before Partition, I came here with my brother," said Mushtaq. "In those days the chowk was still full of perfume from the scent shops. They had different scents for different seasons: khas for the hot season, bhela for the monsoon and henna for the cold. Everywhere there were stalls full of flowers: people brought them in from gardens and the countryside roundabout. The bazaar was famous for having the best food, the best kebabs and the best women in North India.""The best women?" Looking around all I could see now was the occasional black beehive flitting past in full chador."Ah," said Mushtaq, "you see in those days the last courtesans were still here.""Prostitutes?""Not prostitutes in the western sense, although they could fulfil that function.""So what was it that distinguished them from prostitutes?" I asked."In many ways the courtesans were the guardians of the culture," replied Mushtaq. "Apart from anything else they preserved Indian classical music from corruption for centuries. They were known as tawwaif, and they were the incarnation of good manners. The young men would be sent to them to learn how to behave and deport themselves: how to roll or accept a paan, how to say thank you, how to salaam, how to stand up, how to leave a room - as well as the facts of life."On the terraces of upper-storey chambers of the tawwaif, the young men would come to recite their verses and ghazals. Water would be sprinkled on the ground to cool it, then carpets would be laid out and covered with white sheets. Hookahs and candles would be arranged around the guests, along with surahis, fresh from the potters, exuding the monsoon scent of rain falling on parched earth. Only then would the recitations begin. In those days anyone who even remotely aspired to being called cultured had to take a teacher and to learn how to compose poetry."We pulled ourselves onto the steps of a kebab shop to make way for a herd of water buffaloes which were being driven down the narrow alley to the market at the far end. From inside came the delicious smell of grilled meat and spices."Most of all the tawwaifs would teach young men how to speak perfect Urdu. You see in Lucknow language was not just a tool of communication: it was a projection of the culture- very florid and subtle. But now the language has changed. Compared to Urdu, Punjabi is a very coarse language: when you listen to two Punjabis talking it sounds as if they are fighting. But because of the number of Punjabis who have come to live here the old refined Urdu of Lucknow is now hardly spoken. Few are left who can understand it- fewer still who speak it.""Did you ever meet one of these tawwaif?""Yes," said Mushtaq. "My brother used to keep a mistress here in the chowk and on one occasion he brought me along too. I'll never forget her: although she was a poor woman, she was very beautiful- full of grace and good manners. She was wearing her full make-up and was covered in jewellery which sparked in the light of the oil lamps. She looked like a princess to me- but I was hardly twelve, and by the time I was old enough to possess a tawwaif, they had gone. That whole culture with its the poetic mehfils and mushairas (levees and poetic symposia) went with them.""So is there nothing left?" I asked. "Is there no one who can still recite the great poets of Lucknow? Who remembers the old stories?""Well there is one man," said Mushtaq. "You should talk to Suleiman, the Rajah of Mahmudabad. He is a remarkable man."The longer I lingered in Lucknow, the more I heard about Suleiman Mahmudabad. Whenever I raised the subject of survivors from the old world of courtly Lucknow, his name always cropped up sooner or later in the conversation. People in Lucknow were clearly proud of him and regarded him as a sort of repository of whatever wisdom and culture had been salvaged from the wreck of their city.I finally met the man a week later at the house of a Lucknavi friend. Farid Faridi's guests were gathered around a small sitting room sipping imported whisky and worrying about the latest enormities committed by Lucknow's politicians. A month before, in front of Doordashan television cameras, the M.L.A's in State Assembly had attacked each other in the debating chamber with microphone stands, desks and broken bottles. This led to heavy casualties, particularly among the high caste B.J.P politicians who had come to the Assembly building marginally less well armed than their low-caste rivals: around thirty had ended up in hospital with severe injuries, and there was now much talk about possible revenge attacks."Power has passed from the educated to the illiterate," said one guest. "Our last chief minister was a village wrestling champion. Can you imagine?""All our politicians are thugs and criminals now," said my neighbour. "The police are so supine and spineless they do nothing to stop them taking over the state.""We feel so helpless in this situation," said Faridi. "The world we knew is collapsing and there is nothing we can do.""All we can do is to sit in our drawing rooms and watch these criminals plunder our country," said my neighbour."The police used to chase them," agreed the first guest. "But now they spend their time guarding them."Mahmudabad arrived late but was greeted with great deference by our host who addressed him throughout as 'Rajah Sahib'. He was a slight man, but was beautifully turned out in traditional Avadhi evening dress of a long silk sherwani over a pair of tight white cotton pyjamas. I had already been told much about his achievements - how he was as fluent in Urdu, Arabic and Persian as he was in French and English, how he had studied post-graduate astrophysics at Cambridge, how he had been a successful Congress M.L.A under Rajiv Gandhi - but nothing prepared me for the anxious, fidgety polymath who effortlessly dominated the conversation from the moment he stepped into the room.Towards midnight, as he was leaving, Mahmudabad asked whether I was busy the following day. If not, he said, I was welcome to accompany him to the qila, his ancestral fort in the country outside Lucknow. He would be leaving at 11am; if I could get to him by then I could come along and keep him company on the journey.Suleiman's Lucknow pied a terre, I discovered the following morning, turned out be the one surviving wing of the Kaiserbagh, the last great palace of the Nawabs. Before its partial destruction during the Mutiny, the Kaiserbagh had been larger than the Tuileries and the Louvre combined; but what remained more closely resembled some crumbling Sicilian palazzo, all flaking yellow plasterwork and benign baroque neglect. An ancient wheel-less Austin 8 rusted in the palace's porte cochere, beside which squatted a group of elderly retainers all dressed in matching white homespun.Suleiman was in his study, attending to a group of petitioners who had come to ask favours. It was an hour before he could free himself and call for the driver to come around with the car. Soon we had left the straggling outskirts of Lucknow behind us and were heading on a raised embankment through long straight avenues of poplars. On either side spread yellow fields of mustard, broken only by clumps of palm and the occasional pool full of leathery water buffaloes. As we drove Suleiman talked about his childhood, much of which, it emerged, had been spent in exile in the Middle East."My father," he said, "was a great friend of Jinnah and an early supporter of his Muslim League. In fact he provided so much of the finance that he was made treasurer. But despite his admiration for Jinnah he never really seemed to understand what Partition would entail. The day before the formal split, in the midst of the bloodshed, he quietly left the country and set off via Iran for Kerbala [the Shia's holiest shrine]. From there we went to Beirut. It was ten years before he took up Pakistani citizenship, and even then he spent most of his time in London.""So did he regret helping Jinnah?""He was too proud to admit it," said Suleiman, "but I think yes. Certainly he was profoundly saddened by the bitterness of Partition and the part he had played in bringing it about. After that he never settled down or returned home. I think he realised how many people he had caused to lose their homes, and he chose to wander the face of the earth as a kind of self-imposed penance."Mahmudabad lay only thirty miles outside Lucknow but so bad were the roads that the journey took well over two hours. Eventually a pair of minarets reared out of the trees- a replica of the mosque at Kerbala built by Suleiman's father- and beyond them, looking onto a small lake, towered the walls of the qila [fort] of Mahmudabad.It was a vast structure, built in the same Lucknavi Indo-Palladian style I had seen at La Martiniere and Dilkusha. The outer wall was broken by a ceremonial gateway or naqqar khana [drum house] on which was emblazoned the fish symbol of the Kingdom of Avadh. Beyond rose the ramparts of a medieval fort onto which had been tucked an eighteenth century classical bow front; above, a series of balconies were surmounted by a ripple of Mughal chattris and copulas.It was magnificent, yet the same neglect which had embraced so many of the buildings of Lucknow had also gripped the Mahmudabad qila. The grass had died on the lawn in front of the gateway, and the remaining flowers in the beds were twisted and desiccated; bushes sprouted from the fort's roof. In previous generations the chamber at the top of the naqqar khana would have been full of musicians announcing the arrival of the Rajah with kettle drums and shehnai. It was empty now, of course, but there was certainly no shortage of servants to fill it. As we drove into the qila's courtyard we saw a crowd of between twenty and 30 retainers massing to greet the rajah, all frantically bowing and salaaming; as Suleiman got out of the car the foremost ones dived to touch his feet. I followed the rajah into the qila and up through the dark halls and narrow staircases of the fort; the troop of servants followed behind me. Dust lay thick underfoot, as if the qila was some lost castle in a child's fairy tale. We passed through a splintered door into an old ballroom, empty, echoing and spacious. Once its floor had been sprung, but now many of the planks were missing and littered with pieces of plaster fallen from the ceiling. A torn family portrait of some bejewelled raja hung half in, half out of its frame. It looked as if no one had entered the room for at least a decade. Finally, Suleiman threw back a door and led the way into what had once been the library. Cobwebs hung like sheets from the walls; the chintz was literally peeling off the arm chairs. Books were everywhere, great piles of 1920's hardbacks, but you had to wipe the book with a handkerchief to read the spines and to uncover lines of classics - The Annals of Tacitus, The Works of Aristotle - nestling next to such long-forgotten titles as The Competition Wallah and The Races of the North West Provinces of India."This library was my ancestor's window on the world," said Suleiman, "but, like everything, it's fast decaying, as you can see."I looked around. There were no carpets on the floors which, uncovered, had become stained and dirty. Above there were holes in the ceiling, with the wooden beams showing through the broken plaster like bones sticking out of wounded flesh. Suleiman was at the window now, pressing the shutters to try and open them; pushing too hard, he nearly succeeded in dislodging the whole window frame. Eventually the shutter gave way and hung open, precariously attached to the frame by its one remaining hinge.A servant padded in and Suleiman ordered some cold drinks, asking when lunch would be ready. The servant looked flustered. It became apparent that the message had not reached them from Lucknow that we would be expecting lunch; probably the telephone lines were not working that day."It wasn't always like this," said Suleiman, slumping down in one of the chintzless armchairs underneath a single naked light bulb. "When the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war broke out, the qila was seized by the government as enemy property. My father had finally made the decision to take Pakistani citizenship in 1957, and although he had never really lived there, it was enough. Everything was locked up and the gates were sealed. My mother - who had never taken Pakistani citizenship - lived on the verandah for three or four months before the government agreed to allow her to have a room to sleep in. Even then it was two years before she was allowed access to a bathroom. She endured it all with great dignity. Until her death she carried on as if nothing had happened."At this point the bearer reappeared and announced that no cold drinks were available. Suleiman frowned and dismissed him, asking him to bring some water and to hurry up with the lunch."What was I saying?" he asked, distracted by the domestic chaos."About the sealing of the palace.""Ah yes. The Indian armed Constabulary lived here for two years. It wasn't just neglect: the place was looted. There were two major thefts of silver- they said ten tons in all...""Tens tons? Of silver?""That's what they say," replied Suleiman dreamily. He looked at his watch. It was nearly three o'clock and his absent lunch was clearly on his mind. "Ten tons... though it's probably exaggerated. Certainly everything valuable was taken: even the chairs were stripped of their silver backing.""Were the guards in league with the robbers?""The case is still going on. It's directed against some poor character who got caught: no doubt one of the minnows who had no one to protect him."Suleiman walked over to the window and shouted some instructions in Urdu down to the servants in the courtyard below. "I've asked them to bring some bottled water. I can't drink the water here. My stomach- you've no idea the hell I've been through with it, the pain. I have to keep taking these terrible antibiotics. I've been to specialists, but they can't do anything."Shortly afterwards the bearer reappeared. There was no bottled water, he said. And no, rajah sahib, the khana was not yet ready. He shuffled out backwards, mumbling apologies. "What are these servants doing?" said Suleiman. "They can't treat us like this."The rajah began to pace backwards and forwards through the ruination of his palace, stepping over the chunks of plaster on the floor."I get terrible bouts of gloom whenever I come here," he said. "It makes me feel so tired - exhausted internally."He paused, trying to find the right words: "There is... so much that is about to collapse: its like trying to keep a dyke from bursting. Partly its because I don't live here enough... But it preys on my mind wherever I am. I feel overwhelmed at even the thought of this place.He paused again, raising his hands in a gesture of helplessness: "I simply can't see any light at the end of any of the various tunnels. Each year I feel that it is less and less worth struggling for. Sometimes the urge just to escape becomes insupportable- just to leave it all behind, to take a donkey and some books and disappear."Come," he said, suddenly taking my arm. "I can't breathe. There's no air in this room..."The rajah led me up flight after flight of dark, narrow staircases until we reached the flat roof on the top of the fort. From beyond the moat, out over the plains, smoke and mist were rising from the early evening cooking fires, forming a flat layer at the level of the tree tops. To me it was a beautiful, peaceful Indian winter evening of the sort I had grown to love, but Suleiman seemed to see in it a vision of impending disaster. He was still tense and agitated, and the view did nothing to calm him down."You see," he explained. "It’s not just the qila that depresses me. It's what is happening to the people. There was so much that could have been done after Independence when they abolished the holdings of the zamindars [the big absentee landlords] who were strangling the countryside. But all that happened was the rise of these criminal politicians: they filled the vacuum and they are the role models today. Worse still theirs are the values - if you can call them values - to which people look up: corruption, deception, duplicity, crude, crass materialism. These are seen to be the avenues to success. "The world that I knew has been completely corrupted and destroyed. I go into fits of depression when I see the filth and dirt of modern Lucknow and remember the flowers and trees of my youth. Even out here the rot has set in. Look at that monstrosity!"Suleiman pointed to a thick spire of smoke rising from a sugar factory some distance away across the fields."Soft powder falls on the village all day from the pollution from that factory. It was erected illegally and in no other country would such a pollutant be tolerated. I spoke to the manager and he assured me action was imminent, but of course nothing ever happens.""Perhaps if you went back into politics you could have it closed down?" I suggested."Never again, " said Suleiman. "After two terms in the Legislative Assembly I came on record saying I would leave the Congress Party if it continued to patronise criminals. The new breed of Indian politician has no ideas and no principles. In most cases they are just common criminals in it for what they can plunder. Before he died I went and saw Rajiv and told him what was happening. He was interested but he didn't do anything. He was a good man, but weak: unsure of himself. He did nothing to stop the rot.""Do you really think things are that bad?" I asked"There has been a decline in education, in health, in sanitation. There is a general air of misery and suffering in the air. It's got much, much worse in the last fifteen years. Last week a few miles outside Lucknow robbers stopped the traffic and began robbing passers-by in broad daylight. Later, it turned out that the bandits were policemen."When I first joined the Legislative Assembly I was elected with an unprecedented majority. Perhaps you are right: perhaps I should have stayed in politics. But what I saw just horrified me. These people... In their desire to get a majority, the rules are bent, the laws broken, institutions are destroyed. The effects are there for anyone to see. You saw the roads: they're intolerable. Twenty years ago the journey here used to take an hour; now it takes twice that. Electricity is now virtually non-existent, or at best very erratic. There is no healthcare, no education, nothing. Fifty years after independence there are still villages around here which have no drinking water. And now there are these hold-ups on the road. Because they are up to their neck in it, the police and the politicians turn a blind eye.""But isn't that all the more reason for you to stay in politics?" I said. "If all the people with integrity were to resign, then of course the criminals will take over.""Today it is impossible to have integrity or honesty and to stay in politics in India," replied Suleiman. "The process you have to go through is so ugly, so awful, it cannot leave you untouched. Its nature is such that it corrodes, that it eats up all that is most precious and vital in the spirit. It acts like acid on one's integrity and sincerity. You quickly find yourself doing something totally immoral and you ask yourself: what next? We fell silent for a few minutes, watching the sun setting over the sugar mill. Behind us, the bearer reappeared to announce that the rajah's dal and rice was finally ready. It was now nearly five o'clock."In some places in India perhaps you can still achieve some good through politics," said Suleiman. "But in Lucknow it's like a black hole. One has an awful feeling that the forces of darkness are going to win here. It gets worse by the year, the month, the week. The criminals feel they can act with impunity: if they're not actually members of the Legislative Assembly themselves, they'll certainly have political connections. As long as they split 10% of their takings between the local M.L.A and the police they can get on and plunder the country without trouble."Everything is beginning to disintegrate," said Suleiman, still looking down over the parapet. "Everything."He gestured out towards the darkening fields below. Night was drawing in now, and a cold wind was blowing in from the plains: "The entire economic and social structure of this area is collapsing," he said. "Its like the end of the Moghul Empire. We're regressing into a Dark Age."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Under the Char Minar by William Dalrymple

"Fibs," said Mir Moazam Hussain. "That's what everyone of your generation thinks I'm telling, at least when I talk about Hyderabad in the old days. Oh yes, you can't fool me. You all think I'm telling the most outrageous pack of fibs."The old man settled himself back in his rocking chair and shook his head, half amused, half frustrated: "My grandchildren for instance. I can see the disbelief growing in their eyes as I talk. By the end - though of course they are much too polite to say so - I can see they are thinking that I must be either completely senile or completely mendacious. One of the two. For them the old world of Hyderabad is completely inconceivable: they can't imagine that such a world could exist.""But what exactly can't they believe?" I asked."Well the whole bang-shoot really: the Nizam and his nobles and their palaces and their zenanas and the entire what-have-you that went with old Hyderabad State. But it’s all true. Every word."Mir Moazam raised his eyebrows: "The palace I grew up in, for example, had a staff of 927 people, including three doctors. There was even a whole regiment of women from Somalia, all in saris, imported all the way from Africa just to guard the zenana. But tell that to my grandchildren. They've seen how we live today, and they just think that I'm making it up. Especially when I start telling them about my grandfather." "Your grandfather?""My grandfather, Fakrool Mulk. The name means 'Pride of the Realm'. He was - how shall I put it - a larger-than-life character.""Tell me about him.""You probably wouldn't believe it.""Try me," I said."Well, where shall I start?" said Mir Moazam. He settled himself back in his chair and paused while he cast around for a suitable place to begin his tale."You see although my grandfather was Deputy Prime Minister in the Nizam's government, his real passion was building.""Building?""Building. It was like a disease for him. He just had to build. Over the course of his life he built this great series of vast rambling palaces, one after the other. But he was never satisfied. As soon as he had finished one, he immediately began to build another. Sometimes he would just give an entire palace away. Once he heard that the Nizam had privately said that he envied him owning a palace looking on the Fateh Maidan, where all the tent pegging and polo matches took place. At the first opportunity he just gave the Asad Bagh to the Nizam, even though it was his principal residence and all nine of his children had been born there. But that was absolutely typical of him and his buildings. He never lived in half of them, yet even when he was 75 he was still at it. Of course he built up enormous debts in the process.""Was he a trained an architect?""Well that was precisely the problem. No, he wasn't. But every evening he would go out for a walk, and with him he would take his walking stick and this great entourage of his staff which always included his secretary, his masons, his builders, a couple of his household poets and the paymaster general of his estates - some 30 or 40 people in all."Anyway on these walks, when the inspiration came, he would begin to draw in the sand with his walking stick: maybe one day it was a new college, or a new stable block, or possibly a new palace, or whatever it was, according to how the fancy took him. The draughtsmen he had brought with him would jot it down onto paper and then draw it up when they got back. The next day he would be shown the pictures after breakfast. He would say, 'No, enlarge that tower, and let's put two cupolas on top'. Or maybe: 'That's good, but it has to be triple the size." His buildings were always something of a hotchpotch, as he would change the style according to his mood. Some of his buildings have a classical ground floor, a tropical Gothic first storey and then change to art deco or even Scotch Baronial half way up."Finally the plan would be approved, and the masons would get to work, and - hey presto! - the Hyderabad skyline had a new palace - except that then he would go and visit it and say, 'This door is not wide enough. I can't possibly fit through this with the Resident's wife on my arm'. So the whole thing would be torn down and work would restart. Well into his seventies he was still adding new wings and towers and porticoes to his palaces, and despite his debts, none of his sons ever had the guts to argue with him.""Did he have a favourite palace?" "I don't know about a favourite, but the one he lived in for longest was Iram Manzil, just around the corner from here. It wasn't the largest of his palaces, but I think the reason he really loved it was the stuffed tiger.""The stuffed tiger?""You see after building my grandfather's other great love was tiger shooting, and the season for tiger shooting was only a few months each year. So on the hill outside Iram Manzil he built this miniature railway track and on the track he placed a stuffed tiger on wheels. It would be let loose from the top of the hill and we would all line up and let fire with our double barrels: bang! bang! bang! all of us aiming at this wretched tiger as it careered down the hill shooting in and out of the rocks, down the gradient, getting faster and faster as it went down. By the time it reached the end of the track it was completely peppered: blown to bits, poor thing. So the men who were employed to look after the tiger would patch it up, and pull it back, and off we'd go again." "I can see why your grandchildren might find all this a little... fantastic.""But I think what they find most difficult to believe is not this sort of thing, but the simple business of my grandfather's eating habits.""Eating habits?""Well, Fakrool Mulk liked his food.""He ate a lot?""A lot.""So," I ventured, "on any given day what might be on your grandfather's table?""I'll never forget Fakrool Mulk's dinners," said Mir Moazam. His face lit up at the memory: "He would sit in the middle of this huge table, with the doctor, the butler and the assistant butler looking on, while his secretary read to him from the Hyderabad Bulletin. First the cook would bring a tankard of wonderfully thick, creamy chicken broth, then came the pomfret from Bombay - two pieces. He would finish that, then followed the whole chicken, so tender it would fall apart at the touch. Only when he had single-handedly demolished this great fowl - picked the flesh off every bone - would the next course be brought in: a selection of spectacular Mughlai dishes, eight curries or so, and a great plate of the finest ground Hyderabadi kebabs. They would just melt in the mouth: I've never tasted anything like them anywhere else. Of course there was always a mountain of best biryani, and several different kinds of bread: roomali roti [handkerchief bread] and naan and stuffed parathas, all served on the most beautiful monogrammed porcelain. When he had finished he used to pass the plate to me and I would transfer what was left over to my plate: in our tradition that was considered a great privilege and I would salaam profoundly as I did so. There was very strict protocol: we wouldn't sit until asked to, and wouldn't dream of talking until talked to.""And that was the end of dinner?""No, no. There was still pudding. Pudding was the highlight of my grandfather's day! Oh yes: after the curries had been carried away, then came the sweets: two different kinds of English pudding - hot and cold - followed by a great big platter of Mughlai sweets, all of which were served with a great big bowl of clotted cream. Then he'd get up and go next door to drink soda water, and receive the gift that the Nizam would send him every day: it might be a box of mangoes or some ladoos or something like that. So he would call in the secretary he employed soley to write letters to the Nizam, and dictate a letter of thanks, at least half of which would simply be the usual list of highly exaggerated Persian titles. When that was finished he would take his hubble-bubble and puff away at that, until he was ready to go downstairs and play billiards, after which it was off to bed. When he was tucked up, a story teller would be brought in to an alcove covered with a curtain, and from there he would tell stories from the Shahnama about Sohrab and Rustam, or perhaps tales from the Mahabharat, or Deccani tales about the Deeds of the Qu'tb Shahi kings. Those old storytellers could talk for days without stopping. Only when they heard snoring from the other side of the curtain would they stop."Mir Moazam looked up and again slowly shook his head: "Now of course everything has gone," he said, "and I suppose I'm part of a dying race. We're going pretty fast, and after us there will just be the same monotonous uniformity. All that will be left of that world is what is recorded in books and memoirs." "But like my grandchildren," he added, looking me in the eyes, "you probably don't believe a word of this anyway. And why should you? The last traces of this entire world were destroyed and uprooted years before you were born."But I did believe Mir Moazam, for I had long heard equally fantastical stories about the State of Hyderabad. Years ago, Iris Portal, an old friend of my grandmother, had told me a story I had never forgotten: how one day in the late 1930's she had been taken to see some of the Nizam's treasure which was hidden in a secret vault in one of the palaces. This was at a time when Iris's husband ran the staff of the Nizam's younger son, and Iris had befriended his wife, Princess Niloufer.One day Niloufer had led Iris down some stairs, past a group of Bedouin Arab guards, and there at the bottom was a huge underground garage, full of lines of trucks and haulage lorries. The trucks were dusty and neglected, their tyres rotting and flat and sinking into the ground, but when the two ladies pulled back a tarpaulin, they found that the trucks were full of gems and precious stones and pearls and gold coins. The Nizam apparently lived in fear of either a revolution or an Indian takeover of his state, and had equipped the lorries so that, at short notice, he could get some of his wealth out of the country if the need came. But then he lost interest in his plan, and left the lorries to rot, quite incapable of driving anywhere, but still full of their consignment of jewels.Other stories of Iris’ only confirmed this picture of Hyderabad as a sort of fantastical Indian Ruritania, where an unreconstructed feudal aristocracy preserved and incubated ridiculously rococo rules of etiquette, and where life revolved around fabulously intricate and elaborate orders of precedence.The Nizam, said to be the richest man in the world, had no less than 11,000 servants; 38 dusted the chandeliers, others were employed only to grind walnuts. The Nizam also supervised his three official wives, his 42 concubines, and his brood of over 200 children."He was as mad as a coot and his [chief] wife was raving," Iris told me. "It was like living in France on the eve of the Revolution. All the power was in the hands of the Muslim nobility. They spent money like water and were terrible, irresponsible landlords, but they could be very charming and sophisticated as well. They would take us shooting - snipe and partridges - talking all the while about their trips to England or to Cannes and Paris, although in many ways Hyderabad was still living in the Moghul Middle Ages and the villages we would pass through were often desperately poor. You couldn't help feeling that the whole great baroque structure could come crashing down at any minute."For all the fairy-tale Once-Upon-A-Time-There-Was-A-Princess-Who-Lived-In-A-Huge-Palace quality of these tales, I soon discovered that they were confirmed in every detail by the most sober history books. The Nizam, Major-Gen. Sir Osman Ali Khan, did indeed possess the largest fortune in the world: according to one contemporary estimate, it amounted to at least £100 million in gold and silver bullion and £400 million in jewels, many of which came from his own Golconda mines, source of the Koh-i-Noor and the legendary (though now lost) Great Mogul Diamond which, at 787 carats, is thought to have been the largest ever discovered.The Nizam was also the seniormost Prince in India, the only one to merit the title 'His Exalted Highness', and for most of the first half of the 20th century he ruled a state the size of Italy - 82,700 square miles of the Deccan plateau - as absolute monarch, answerable (in internal matters at least) to no-one but himself. Within this vast area, the Nizam could claim the allegiance of no less than fifteen million subjects. The senior Hyderabad aristocracy - known as the Paigah nobles - tended to be richer than the average Indian Maharajah, and each maintained their own court, their own extraordinary palaces, and their own three or four thousand strong private armies. Nor, despite all the dreadful inequalities of wealth, was Hyderabad a poor country: in its final year of existence, 1947-8, the state's income and expenditure rivaled Belgium and exceeded that of twenty member states of the United Nations. Moreover, the Nizam appeared to be every bit as eccentric as Iris had indicated. While most of the Indian maharajahs used to dress in magnificent costumes and bedeck themselves with jewels the size of ostrich eggs, according to one British resident the Nizam resembled "a snuffly clerk too old to be sacked". All his life he wore the same dirty old fez, a dirty pair of pyjamas, and an ancient sherwani; towards the end the Nizam even took to knitting his own socks. In 1946, when the diwan of Hyderabad brought a distinguished Persian visitor to see the Nizam at the Azakhan Zehra, and said in Persian 'Een Shah-i-Dekhan ast,' (This is the King of the Deccan), the startled visitor could only comment, 'Panah-ba-khuda!' (God save us!) When he died in 1967 The Times described the Nizam as 'a shabby old man shuffling through his dream world' and described his hobbies as 'taking opium, writing Persian poetry and' - a wonderful detail - 'watching surgical operations'.Yet for all this, under the Nizam, Hyderabad grew to be an important centre of the arts. After the fall of Lucknow to the British in 1856, Hyderabad remained the last great centre of Indo-Islamic culture and the flagship of Deccani civilisation with its long heritage of composite Qu'tb Shahi, Vijayanagaran, Moghul, Kakatiyan, Central Asian and Iranian influences. Its Osmania university was the first in India to teach in an indigenous Indian language, and it was way ahead of most other regions in India in the spread of education. In the early twentieth century it was the most important area for the growth of Urdu literature in the subcontinent, and the people of Hyderabad had evolved their own distinctive manners, habits, language, music, literature, food and dress. Moreover their capital was famous as a City of Palaces, able to rival in grandeur and magnificence anything in South Asia.It is often hard to believe this as you drive through the city today. For while Hyderabad is still pretty prosperous - and certainly a far cry from the urban death rattle that is modern Lucknow - fifty years on it is a pretty unprepossessing place, ugly, polluted and undistinguished, all seventies office blocks and bustling new shopping centres: Darshan Automobiles and Dervish Home Needs, The Jai Hind Cycle Store and Posh Tailors: Ladies and Gents a Speciality. The trees have all been cut down and attempts at urban planning utterly abandoned. New buildings are mushrooming everywhere, often built over the old Indo-Islamic bazaars and the colonial town houses, so that only piles of old discarded pillars remain to hint at what once occupied the site of the new concrete jean emporium or pizza restaurant.In the older bazaars, the great cusped gateways of the old Hyderabadi havelis still stand, but now lead nowhere, except to a half-built matrix of foundations and concrete piles. The palaces of the Paigah nobility have mostly been knocked down or else taken over by the government, and have been so badly kept up, or so unsympathetically converted into offices, that today they are virtually unrecognisable. At first sight there is nothing remotely charming or magical about Hyderabad today.But look a little further and you soon discover that small pools of the old world do still survive, often out of bounds to the casual visitor. The Falaknuma Palace is one such place. A huge and magnificent complex of white classical palaces raised above the town on its own Acropolis, the Falaknuma was the principal residence of the sixth Nizam, the father of Osman Ali Khan. But today the complex is subject to a bitter legal dispute between the Taj group, who wish to turn the palaces into a hotel, and the last Nizam's grandson, now mainly resident on a sheep farm in Australia, who claims never to have sold the palace to anyone. While the buildings await the decision of the courts, the entire palace complex lies empty and semi-ruinous, locked by court order, with every window and doorway sealed by red wax. Wipe the windows and peer inside, and you see cobwebs the size of bedsheets hanging from the corners of the rooms. The skeletons of outsized Victorian sofas and armchairs lies dotted around the parquet floors, their chintz entirely eaten away by white ants, so that all that remains is the wooden frame, the springs and a little of the stuffing. Vast imperial desks, big enough to play billiards upon, lie on rotting red carpets covered with a peppering of huge holes as if they have been savaged by some terrible outsized moth. On one wall hangs a giant portrait of Queen Mary, on another a strange faded Victorian fantasy of Richard the Lionheart on the battlements at Acre. Beyond are long, gloomy corridors, leading to unseen inner courtyards and zenana wings: mile upon mile of empty classical arcades and melancholy bow fronts, now quite empty but for a pair of lonely chowkidars shuffling around with their lathis and whistles. Outside stretch acres of scrub flats, once presumably soft green lawns, dotted here and there with kitsch statues of naked cupids, waterless fountains, giant silver Victorian oil lamps and paint-flaking flagpoles leaning at crazy angles.That this fairy-tale extravagance has always been part of the culture of Hyderabad is demonstrated by the mediaeval Qu'tb Shahi tombs, a short distance to the east of the Falaknuma. They are wonderfully ebullient and foppish monuments dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with domes swelling out of all proportion to the base, each like a watermelon attempting to balance on a fig. Above the domes rises the craggy citadel of Golconda, source of the ceaseless stream of diamonds that ensured that Hyderabad's rulers would never ever be poor. Inside the walls you pass a succession of harems and bathing pools, pavilions and pleasure gardens - a world that seems to have jumped straight out of the pages of Arabian Nights. When the French jeweller Jean Baptiste Tavernier visited Golconda 1642 he found a society every bit as decadent as this architecture might suggest and he wrote that the town possessed more than 20,000 registered courtesans, who had to take it in turns to dance for the King every Friday. This oddly romantic and courtly atmosphere infected even the sober British when they arrived in Hyderabad at the end of the eighteenth century. For the city is the location of one of the most affecting Anglo-Indian love stories to emerge from the three hundred-year interaction of the two peoples. The old British residency, now the University College for Women, is an imposing Palladian villa, which shelters in a massive fortified garden in the south of the town. A pair of British lions lie paws extended below a huge pedimented and colonadad front, looking out over a wide expanse of eucalyptus, breadfruit and casuarina trees, every inch the East India company at its grandest and most formal. Yet surprises lurk in the undergrowth at the rear of the compound.The complex was built by Lieutenant-Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick, Resident between 1797 and 1805, and an unusually imaginative and sympathetic figure, whose love and respect for the people of Hyderabad was symbolised by his adoption of Hyderabadi clothes and Hyderabadi ways of living. Shortly after arriving in Hyderabad, Kirkpatrick fell in love with Khair-un-Nissa ('Excellent among Women'), a great niece of the diwan of Hyderabad, whom he married in 1800 according to Muslim law. This caused great alarm in London as it was thought - probably correctly - that Kirkpatrick had become a Muslim, an impression that was reinforced by the report of Mounstuart Elphinstone, who wrote that Kirkpatrick had become perhaps dangerously assimilated with his surroundings:"Major Kirkpatrick is a good-looking man... but he wears [Indian] moustachios; his hair is cropped short, and his fingers are dyed with henna, although in most other respects he is like an Englishman... [At the durbar of the Nizam] he goes in great state. He has several elephants, and a state palankeen, led horses, flags, long poles and tassels, &c., and is attended by two companies of infantry and a troop of cavalry... Major Kirkpatrick behaved like a native, but with great propriety."I found a battered token of Kirkpatrick's love for his wife surviving today in the garden at the back of the Residency. As Khair-un-Nissa remained all her life in strict purdah, living in a separate bibi ghar at the end of Kirkpatrick's garden, she was unable to walk around the side of her husband's great creation to admire its wonderful portico. So eventually the Resident hit upon a solution and built a scaled-down plaster model of his new palace for her so that she could examine in detail what she would never allow herself to see with her own eyes. The model survived intact until the 1980's when a tree fell on it, smashing the right wing. The remains of the left wing and central block lie now under a piece of corrugated iron, near the ruins of the Mughal bibi ghar, buried deep beneath a jungle of vines and creepers, in an area still known as the Begum's Garden.As in Delhi and Lucknow, the extravagantly aristocratic culture of Hyderabad filtered down to the streets. "The people of other cities say we are a little lazy," said a shopkeeper in the bazaar, "that we all behave as if we are little Nizams: that we work slowly, eat slowly, wake up slowly, and do everything slowly. Many shopkeepers in Hyderabad don't open their shutters until 11 a.m. We like to take life gently, to take lots of holidays and only to work when we have no money in our pockets." Another legacy of the nobility to filter down to the streets is a fondness for witchcraft and sorcery. In the Lad Bazaar, a short distance from the Char Minar I found a shop which sold nothing but charms and talismen: "In the Nizam's time the Hyderabad princes were always hiring a murshad [sorcerer or holy man] to make spells on their enemies," said Ali Mohammed, who ran the shop. "Now Hyderabad is famous for its magic. Everyone is making too many spells. So they must come here to get protection."Ali showed me his stock: silver ta'wiz blessed by famous sufis, special kinds of attar that deflected the Evil Eye, nails worried into the shape of a cobra to protect from snake bites. On one side of the shop were piled huge bundles of thorns: "Its name is babul. Put it at the entrance of a your gate along with a lime and a green chili and it will take on any bad magic that someone may cast on you.""Do you really believe such curses work?" I asked. "Definitely," said Ali. "I have seen myself. We are four brothers in my family, but my father had an argument with my oldest brother and threw him out. After that my brother paid a murshad to put a curse on our house. The murshad wrote a curse and put it in a bottle which he hid in the tree in our courtyard. Soon after that everything fell apart. We became ill, the business became dull, we could not sleep. My father grew near to death. So we realised what was happening and hired a good murshad. He came to our house and after making many prayers he discovered the bottle and took it away. Immediately my father recovered.""The murshad of Hyderabad are very powerful," said Ali. "They can kill a man with just a look - if they want to." "Magic? Oh yes there was no shortage of magic," said Mir Moazam's wife, the Begum Meherunissa when I told her about my conversation in the bazaar later that afternoon. "What that shopkeeper said is quite true. In the time of the Nizam, there were many such stories. We all believed them.""Can you remember any stories?" I asked."Of course," she said. "I remember very well the most powerful murshad in Hyderabad. I came to know him quite well. But of course he had a very tragic end.""How did you meet him?""On summer evenings the womenfolk of my family would put on their chador and go out for a stroll in one of the Mughal gardens. One day after they had returned from a walk my aunt began to shiver and to behave very oddly. Moreover there was this strange smell of roses wherever she went. Luckily my grandfather realised what had happened and knew exactly what to do. "He called a murshad who questioned my aunt closely. Quite suddenly she stared speaking with a man's voice, saying 'I am the djinn of the rose garden and I am in love with this woman.' The murshad performed an exorcism, and the djinn was sent off. After that the murshad became a regular visitor at the house.""What did he look like?" I asked."Oh, he was a strange, dark-complexioned man, with a black waistcoat and white kurta-pyjamas. He never walked straight, but rocked from side to side. People said he was a qalander, a holy fool, and very close to God. Certainly he could work small miracles, some of which I saw myself.""You saw him work miracles?""Many times. Or rather not him, so much as his djinn.""He had his own djinn?""That's right. To master a djinn, and make him your servant, you must first fast for forty days. Very few succeed. But this man succeeded, and the djinn gave him the strong powers. The children of Hyderabad all knew him as Misri Wallah Pir [the Holy Man who Gives Sweets] and they would run after him and shout, 'Pir Sahib, give us sugar'. So he would bend down and pick up a handful of mud and throw it, and before it reached us, mid-way in the air it would turn to sugar! It did: I tasted it myself. It was delicious: clean and white with no sand or impurity or anything. My mother was very angry when I told her I had eaten some of Misri Wallah Pir's sugar, and said that it would become mud or a stone again in my stomach. But as far as I was aware it never did, or if it did, it never did me any harm.""So you saw him turn mud into sugar more than once?""It was his favourite trick. We children would follow him around and spy on him. He was like a child talking and laughing to himself. Sometimes he would appear to be talking directly to a wall, but if you got close enough you could sometimes hear what sounded like the wall talking to him. I would sit beside him to see if the pir was making the noise himself, but it wasn't him. It was his djinn, Monokhal, replying to him. Sometimes he would read the Koran and the djinn would correct him when he made a mistake. At other times the pir would reach out his hand and from nowhere sweetmeats would come, which he would then feed to cows."Once we were on the verandah watching a lady in the street walking past with a great basket of fruit in her head. Pir Sahib was walking down the road in the opposite direction so I shouted to him, as a joke, 'Pir Sahib, get me some of that fruit.' And there and then that huge basket of fruit flew from the woman's head and came to rest at my feet! The fruit carrier was used to Pir Sahib's tricks and smiled and said, 'Pir Sahib, give it back', so after I had taken a banana, Pir Sahib did send the basket down again. The banana tasted sweeter than any other I have ever tasted."Once my friend asked Misri Wallah Pir for some biryani. Pir Sahib said 'I am a poor man, how can I afford biryani? But we pleaded with him and eventually he called his djinn, 'Idder ao Monokhal!' ['Come here Monokhal!']. And within seconds a delicious biryani appeared before us out of the thin air. Another time a sick man begged him for grapes. It was not the season, and there were no grapes in Hyderabad, but the djinn brought them all the same."There was a pause and the begum looked up, I think to see if I was secretly laughing at her memories: "It's up to you whether you want to believe all this," she said simply. "But I witnessed it."You mentioned that the pir had a very tragic end," I said. "His djinn left him and he lost all his powers," she replied. "He died in great poverty.""What happened?""After Monokhal left him I never saw the pir again. But the story I heard was that one day a poor man had come to the pir and said that he had never seen a diamond. So Misri Wallah Pir called Monokhal and sent him off to fetch the necklace of the Queen of Mysore. The necklace arrived, and the pir gave it to the beggar to examine. But the man had blood on his hands and it got on the necklace, so Monokhal refused to take it back again. No djinn will carry anything that has been touched by blood. The pir was furious, because he didn't want to be accused of stealing the necklace, so he began to beat and to curse the djinn, who simply disappeared. It never came back. "After that the pir took the necklace to a police station and told the constable what had happened. But of course he didn't believe a word the pir said, and when he asked the pir to prove that he had a djinn, he couldn't because Monokhal had gone. So the police beat him up and asked him how he had stolen the necklace, and what else he had taken. After he was released the pir became very sick, and his condition just got worse and worse. Eventually he died alone and penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave." As we were talking Mir Moazam appeared from his study where he had been working while I chatted to the begum. "You see what I mean?" he said to me when his wife had finished her story. "The world we grew up in was a different age. I'm not surprised no one believes any of it when we tell these stories. I sympathise. Looking back, it was a very strange world.""Were you aware at the time that it was all about to be swept away?" I asked."Up to a point," said Mir Moazam. "Looking back now, Hyderabad during my childhood seems like it was going through a period of glorious sunset. But at the time of course, I thought it would all go on forever. It was only as I grew older that I realised that it couldn't last, that the sunset must be pretty close. You could feel it coming."Mir Moazam sat down in the rocking chair beside his wife and rested his face on his palm before continuing: "You see, I was from the Paigah nobility," he said. "And so of course I felt a certain loyalty to that world. But I was not blind to the defects of the Nizam. At Madras University I had been exposed to fiery speeches by Gandhi, Nehru and the other Congress leaders, and I realised then that the Nizam's day had passed. He had come from a different age. What had been possible in his fathers’ time was no longer possible. After that I was in a real dilemma: I could see both sides of the picture."As the British prepared to leave, I think the Nizam should have negotiated seriously with Nehru. He might have got a viable deal: a treaty that would have allowed him to keep some form of real autonomy. That way a lot of bloodshed might have been avoided. In 1947 the place was already in chaos, with the [Muslim] Razakar movement attacking Hindus and Congress supporters, and Congress agent provocateurs burning down the railway station and looting the state treasury. But despite all this, the Nizam still couldn't see that he had been sustained in power by the British, and that now they were going he had reached the end of the line. But instead of negotiating, he decided to declare outright independence from India. It was utter madness. Legally he may have had the right to do so, but it was still quite mad."Mir Moazam shook his head: "He was living in a fool's paradise," he said. "I knew that, of course. But when the crunch came I realised that my loyalty had to be to the Nizam. After all, my ancestors had given everything for the throne for two hundred years. I couldn't just abandon ship. I had to do my duty."So far I had avoided the subject of the Indian army's 1948 invasion of Hyderabad State, then known as Operation Polo, and referred to today in nationalist historiography as 'the Police Action', as if all that had been involved was a few parking tickets and the odd restraining order. I had steered clear of the subject because I had been warned by mutual friends that the invasion had been an extremely difficult and painful period for Mir Moazam, who in the aftermath had been arrested and had spent several years in prison. But in the end it was Mir Moazam himself who brought the matter up."After university I had joined the Nizam's Civil Service and as fate would have it, on the 13th of September 1948, when the Indian army finally crossed the frontier into Hyderabad, I was the district officer in charge of the area facing the main Indian attack. We had no tanks, no planes and virtually no artillery. Nothing: just a pile of old .303 rifles. And with those we had been ordered to take on the might of the Indian army."The morning of the attack I was still shaving when I heard the first shells falling near my house. We had a few platoons, so we lined them up on the frontier, along the banks of the River Bori. They were facing a fully mechanised Indian army unit, with Sherman tanks, armoured cars and field guns, and before long the Indians began picking off our men like rabbits. Our first plan was to blow up the bridge, but it turned out the soldiers didn't have the correct equipment. As head of the district, I was sitting with the Brigadier in the staff car, trying to decide what to do, when the Indian Air Force started strafing us from the air. Our car windows exploded. I lay flat on my belly with bullets shooting over my head. In the end the Brigadier and I both took refuge under an arch of the bridge we had been supposed to blow up. Elsewhere much of the rest of the Hyderabad forces were surrounded while they were at parade. We were all caught with our pants down."The brigadier and I managed to escape, and after that we just retreated and retreated. The whole resistance was completely unrealistic. There was heavy aerial bombardment on all fronts: bombs falling everywhere. The next day I was in a jeep trying to get back to Hyderabad when the bus we were overtaking was blown up by another plane. I had to hide in the paddi. We managed to delay them a little by opening the sluices and flooding the roads, but that was our only success. When the Emperor Aurangzeb invaded Golconda [in 1687], the Hyderabad troops managed to keep the Moghuls at bay for seven or eight months. In our case we only held them up for four days. It was a total collapse."What Mir Moazam said was confirmed by the casualty figures: on the Indian side seven killed and nine wounded, of which one died later; on the Hyderabadi side, an estimated 632 killed and at least fourteen wounded."How did the Indian army behave when it got to Hyderabad?" I asked."When an army invades any country - whether it’s Alexander the Great, Timur, Hitler or Mussolini - when it gets into a town, you know what the soldiery does. It's very difficult for the officers to control them. I can't tell you how many were raped or killed, but I saw the bodies everywhere. Old scores were paid off across the state."I discovered later that it is in fact possible to make an informed estimate of the numbers killed in the aftermath of the 'police action'. For when reports of atrocities began to reach Delhi, Nehru 'in his private capacity', commissioned an unofficial report from a group of veteran Congressmen made up of two Hyderabadi Muslims who had prominently opposed the Nizam's rule and chaired by a Hindu, Pandit Sunderlal. The team made an extensive tour of the State and submitted their report to Nehru and Sardar Patel in January 1949. The report's findings were never made public, however, presumably because of its damning criticism of the conduct of the Indian army. It remained unpublished until a portion of it, smuggled out of India, recently appeared in America in an obscure volume of scholarly essays entitled Hyderabad: After the Fall.The report, entitled On the Post-Operation Polo Massacres, Rape and Destruction or Seizure of Property in Hyderabad State, makes grim reading. In village after village across the state, it meticulously and unemotionally catalogued incidents of murder and mass rape, sometimes committed by troops, in other cases committed by local Hindu hooligans after the troops had disarmed the Muslim population. A short extract, chosen at random, gives the general flavour:"Ganjoti Paygah, District Osmanabad:There are 500 homes belonging to Muslims here. Two hundred Muslims were murdered by the goondas. The army had seized weapons from the Muslims. As the Muslims became defenceless, the goondas began the massacre. Muslim women were raped by the troops. Statement of Pasha Bi, resident of Ganjoti: the trouble in Ganjoti began after the army's arrival. All the young Muslim women here were raped. Five daughters of Osman sahib were raped and six daughters of the Qazi were raped. Ismail Sahib Sawdagar's daughter was raped in Saiba Chamar's home for a week. Soldiers from Umarga came every week and after all-night rape, young Muslim women were sent back to their homes in the morning. Mahtab Tamboli's daughters were divided among Hindus, one is in Burga Julaha's home... "And so on, for page after page. In all, the report estimates that as many as 200,000 Hyderabadi Muslims were slaughtered in the aftermath of the 'Police Action': an astonishing figure which, if true, would turn the 'police action' into a bloodbath comparable to parts of the Punjab during Partition. Even if one regards the figure of 200,000 dead as an impossible exaggeration, it is still clear that the scale of the killing was horrific. Although publicly Nehru played down the disorder in Hyderabad, claiming to the Indian representative at the United Nations that following the Nizam's officials deserting their posts there had been some disorder in which Hindus had retaliated for their sufferings under the [Muslim] Razakars [militia], privately he was much more alarmed. This is indicated by a note Nehru sent to Sardar Patel's Ministry of States on the 26th of November 1948, saying that he had received reports of killings of Muslims so large in number 'as to stagger the imagination' and looting of Muslim property 'on a tremendous scale' - all of which would seem to confirm the general tone of Pandit Sunderlal's report. I asked Mir Moazam what happened to him in the immediate aftermath of the conquest, while all this murderous anarchy was taking place around him:"Most of the officers who were under suspicion by the new regime went to Pakistan," he replied. "Arrangements were made for me, as it was clear I was going to be arrested. But my father said, 'Face the firing squad. I will disinherit and disown you if you run away from your post.' So I stayed, and after a farcical trial full of paid witnesses, I was sentenced to death. I could see the noose from my cell."Mir Moazam briefly cupped his head in hands. He hesitated, and silently rocked back and forth for a minute. Then he clasped his hands together and continued:"Later that year the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment," he said quietly. "Three years after that, following an appeal in the High Court, I was honourably acquitted. Other officers were less lucky: many were framed, while others were forced to flee to Pakistan, though they dearly wished to stay in Hyderabad. Few retained jobs of any importance: they were weeded out. Some were removed, some were reduced in rank, others were put in jail. So after I was released, I decided to go to London. There English friends of mine eventually helped me get a job in UNESCO, and I spent much of the next 30 to 40 years in Paris.""You must have seen quite a few changes on your return," I said."I hardly recognised the place," said Mir Moazam. "I arrived back with a friend who was head of a French bank. All the way I had been telling him about the wonders of Hyderabad, and particularly about the City Palace complex. I told him about the Blue Palace, the Green Palace and, most lovely of all, the Pearl Palace. So as soon as we arrived we went over there. I found the chowkidar and got him to open the gates. Inside it was completely flat: they had totally levelled it. Nothing was there except a few goats. I'll never forget the humiliation as I turned to my friend to try and explain what had happened."But of course I soon discovered that it wasn't just the City Palace: almost all the great houses had gone. Even King Kothi [the Nizam's palace] had been bulldozed, or at least most of it. There was one wing left, converted into some sort of hospital.""Were the palaces confiscated by the government?" I asked."No, not as such," said Mir Moazam. "But the aristocracy lost all their status and their income after the police action, so they just sold everything: land, houses, even the doors and windows. They knew nothing about business: selling their heritage was the only way they could make ends meet."The old man shook his head in disbelief: "No one thought to protect anything," he said. "They just sold their history just to survive. Now there's virtually nothing left: just dusty high rise buildings everywhere. Outside Salar Jung's palace for instance was a garden easily comparable to the Jardin des Tuilleries. I'll never forget its shady walks and ancient trees, its soft green lawns and parterres bursting flowers. There was an octagonal fountain so large you could row about it in a skiff. Now it’s a filthy lorry park. So much was lost, unnecessarily, through sheer ignorance."I asked Mir Moazam what had happened to his own family."Fakrool Mulk died soon after the Fall," he replied. "How could he adapt to the changes? Of course he couldn't. After that the family simply disintegrated. Some have gone to the Gulf and Bahrain, others to Pakistan. Now we are scattered to the winds and Iram Manzil [Fakrool Mulk's last palace] is a government office. It’s just around the corner from here, but it’s almost unrecognisable. You wouldn't believe how they have vandalised it. For me it stands as a symbol of all that has happened to this town.""Could you show me?" I ventured."Why not?" said Mir Moazam. "I'd be happy to do so. "The old man got to his feet, and called for his stick. Two minutes later we were heading through the new housing estates that everywhere seemed to be springing up around Hyderabad. "When I was a boy all this was part of my grandfather's estate," said Mir Moazam. "In those days it was miles outside the town, five hundred acres of land, all beautifully maintained. Where those houses are: that was my grandfather's nine-hole golf course. The first hole is under the Oberoi Hotel. See those shacks? That was a polo field. And that mess over there? That was the palace orange groves. It's impossible to visualise now."We turned down a gradient, and drew up outside a large office complex. On the gate was posted the stenciled notice:GOVERNMENT OF INDIAOFFICE OF THE ENGINEER-IN-CHIEF"This was it," said Mir Moazam, pointing ahead. "Unrecognisable."I looked to where he was pointing. From among a cluster of shacks and lean-to's and concrete outhouses, clinging to the central building like barnacles on an oyster, you could see the outlines of what had once been a magnificent palace. But garages had been built in front of the central portico, obscuring the symmetry of the facade. The paint was peeling, and air conditioning units hung out of every arched window. An air of neglect hung over the whole complex, almost completely masking the grandeur of the original plan."You used to arrive through a gatehouse with two double storeyed towers," said Mir Moazam. "A bugler would blow as you passed. The bugler's name was Jospeh and he used to play the reveille first thing in the morning and sound the retreat each night at sunset. But they bulldozed the tower long ago. To one side, over there where that ugly garage is now, used to be the tennis courts, and beyond were the French Gardens, with their fountains playing. On the other side, at the bottom, there was a big lake. As you drew up in front of the palace, at a sign from the major domo, the band would play God Save the Nizam and God Save the King Emperor. Later, after a game of tennis, you used to have tea on that terrace, over where that temple is now."We walked together around the complex, Mir Moazam pointing out where the zenana stood, before it was bulldozed, and where the Somalian zenana guards used to drill. Here was the pool they used to fill with coloured liquid to play holi, there the hall where Mohurram was celebrated and where the Christmas tree stood. Over there, where they had now blocked up the arches, used to be the banqueting hall. At the end of Ramadan, on the night of Eid, the room was full to bursting with everyone sitting on the floor, eating a great Mughlai dinner."I remember the Nizam coming here, and the Viceroy, and a whole succession of British Residents. Outside there would be gorgeously caparisoned elephants and horses with rich housings, palanquins and teams of palanquin bearers, four in hand coaches, and subsequently Rolls Royces and Daimlers. I remember the polo matches and the times we used to stand over there and try to shoot gold coins thrown in the air, or to pepper that old stuffed tiger on wheels. I remember the tennis matches and the trips to the Malakpet Races and the shikar trips into the jungle. It all seems very long ago now." "So what of the future?" I said. "What do you think will survive of the old culture of Hyderabad?"Mir Moazam shrugged his shoulders: "Very little," he said. "You can't keep out change. In fifty years an entire world has been levelled - utterly destroyed. The process is nearly finished. I think that everything that is special about Hyderabad will go. Day by day the old ways are disappearing. They are being replaced by a monotonous standardisation. What we had in Hyderabad was a very distinct Deccani culture, the product of a very particular mixture of peoples and influences. But much of the old elite went to Pakistan, and a flood of new people have come, bringing their own ways with them. What is left is on its last legs, and now there is nothing anyone can do about it. The old man took my hand and led me back towards the road: "My children tell me you mustn't live in your memories. One must try to move with the times, and face the future rather than always dreaming about what has gone."Mir Moazam turned to face me: "And they are right of course," he said. "That is why I never come back here. At every step there are fragments of history. And frankly it breaks my old heart to see it like this."

William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award. In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for four and a half years researching his second book, City of Djinns, which won the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. His third book, From the Holy Mountain, was awarded the Scottish Arts Council Autumn Book Award for 1997, and was shortlisted for the 1998 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. The Age of Kali: Indian Travels & Encounters, a collection Dalrymple's essays on India written over the last ten years, was published in 1998. William Dalrymple’s most recent book, White Mughals, won the Wolfson Prize for History. He is now at work on a Mughal Quartet, four books telling the story of the Great Mughals from the time of Babur to the last Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. The first volume will be published by Bloomsbury next Autumn. Dalrymple was recently elected the youngest Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Asiatic Society. He is married and has a son and daughter.
Other articles by William Dalrymple
Dublin: Ireland/DublinAt Donna Georgina’s: India/GoaOn The Frontier: Pakistan/Khyber PassThe Ganges: India/The GangesLahore: Blood on the Tracks: Pakistan/LahoreIn the Kingdom of Avadh: India/LucknowAt the Court of the Fish-eyed Goddess Queen: India/MaduraiIn Judea: Israel/JudeaIn Zanzibar: Tanzania/ZanzibarSt Lucia: Caribbean/St LuciaPrimate Suspect: The Terrorist Apes of Jaipur: India/JaipurThe Monks of St Anthony: Egypt/St Anthony's MonasterySeidnaya: Syria/DamascusRĂ©union: RĂ©union/St. DenisThe Wasteland: India/BiharUnder the Char Minar: India/HyderabadParashakti Cochin: India/KeralaEast of Eton: India/Uttar PradeshSurrey in Tibet: India/SimlaBattling for the Buddha: India/AyodhyaLast Stand of the Byzantines: Greece/PeloponneseThe Sacred Music of Fez: Morocco/FezThe Temples of Kanchipuram: India/Tamil NaduAmong the Sadhus: India/Ganges

Comment posted by Anonymous
at 12/9/2006 7:34:00 PM

The grip of the Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen on the community remains strong, With a Member representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, five members in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 40 corporators in Hyderabad and 95-plus members elected to various municipal bodies in Andhra Pradesh, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is one of the foremost representatives of the city’s Muslims and the most powerful Muslim party in India and one can see the partys strenghth if it goes to Hyderabad old city and Parts of Muslim Dominated Villages of Andhra Pradesh everywhere u look u can see MIM written on walls ,lightpoles and buildings leaving aside green flags and posters of its Leadership and there small Offices . The Majlis has brought lot of development to the Old part of the city even after it is said it hasnt done anything by its opponents who are mostly Ex Majlis workers.The Majlis was formed in 1927 “for educational and social uplift of Muslims”. But it articulated the position that “the ruler and throne (Nizam) are symbols of the political and cultural rights of the Muslim community… (and) this status must continue forever”.The Majlis pitted itself against the Andhra Mahasabha and the communists who questioned the feudal order that sustained the Nizam’s rule. It also bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj, which gave social and cultural expression to the aspirations of the urban Hindu population in the Hyderabad State of those days.By the mid-1940s, the Majlis had come to represent a remarkably aggressive and violent face of Muslim communal politics as it organised the razakars (volunteers) to defend the “independence” of this “Muslim” State from merger with the Indian Union.According to historians, over 1,50,000 such `volunteers’ were organised by the Majlis for the Nizam State’s defence but they are remembered for unleashing unparalleled violence against Communal Hindus and the communists and all those who opposed the Nizam’s “go it alone” policy. It is estimated that during the height of the razakar `agitation’, over 30,000 people had taken shelter in the Secunderabad cantonment alone to protect themselves from these `volunteers’.But the razakars could do little against the Indian Army and even put up a fight. Kasim Rizvi, the Majlis leader, was imprisoned and the organisation banned in 1948. Rizvi was released in 1957 on the undertaking that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. Before he left though, Rizvi met some of the erstwhile activists of the Majlis and passed on the presidentship to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, a famous lawyer and an Islamic scholar from jamia nizamia who also was jailed for nearly 10 months after he took over the Majlis leadership as the then govt wanted to abolish the Majlis party but Owaisi refused to do so and was seen as a person who had financially supported the party when it was a bankrupt and weak one after the Police Action in Hyderabad State.Owaisi is credited with having “re-written” the Majlis constitution according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and “the realities of Muslim minority in independent India”, and fought the legal case for winning back darrusslam mim headquarters for years according to a former journalist, Chander Srivastava. For the first decade-and-a-half after this “reinvention”, the Majlis remained, at best, a marginal player in Hyderabad politics and even though every election saw a rise in its vote share, it could not win more than one Assembly seat.The 1970s saw an upswing in Majlis’ political fortunes. In 1969, it won back its party headquarters, Dar-us-Salaam — a sprawling 4.5-acre compound in the heart of the New City. It also won compensation which was used to set up an ITI on the premises and a women’s degree college in Nizamabad town. In 1976, Salahuddin Owaisi took over the presidentship of the Majlis after his father’s demise who also was also Jailed Various times .This started an i